Representation Of Race Or Marketing?: What Lets Us See “Queen Cleopatra”

The new Netflix docuseries questions the supposed representation of race that is made of historically discriminated groups. This leaves us to see "Queen Cleopatra" .

Still from the series 'Queen Cleopatra'

Photo: Netflix

The Woman Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: ¿Representación de raza o marketing?: lo que nos deja ver “La reina Cleopatra”

Netflix has been the center of controversy after the announcement and premiere of its new docuseries "Queen Cleopatra", in which the famous queen of Egypt is played by a black actress . The controversy began from the release of the trailer, in which it is stated that Cleopatra was black and probably Egyptian. According to historical data, Cleopatra was born in Egypt, but she came from Macedonia, Greece. This generated thousands of netizens to show their disagreement with the representation of race that the docuseries has made of one of the most important historical figures in the world.

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Shortly after the series premiered, an Egyptian lawyer sued the streaming platform for seeking to "distort and erase the Egyptian identity." For its part, Netflix responded by assuring that it is not known with certainty who Cleopatra's mother was, which has led to a conversation about whether she could have Egyptian or other African ancestry. Likewise, Jada Pinkett Smith, narrator and executive producer of "Queen Cleopatra", assured that the idea for the series arose from said conversation and the importance of a black representation of a woman that has been so important throughout history. .

Representation and historical accuracy

Racialized communities, especially the black community, have fought for dignifying representation in different sectors of society. One of them is the film industry, in which little by little there is more room for the participation of people belonging to these groups. In this order of ideas, it is sought that more audiovisual productions have participants, protagonists and stories that revolve around this.

An example of these efforts is the live-action "The Little Mermaid", which stars the black actress Halle Bailey. When it was announced that she would play Ariel, who in the animated version is white, there was discontent and criticism from many fans. However, this opened up the conversation about the importance of the representation of the black race in fictional characters.

Read also: Review of "The Little Mermaid": Better than expected… but not enough

However, with examples such as "Queen Cleopatra" we find a representation that goes against historical accuracy and even becomes very problematic due to the colonizing burden that the figure of Cleopatra has. Also, if this production is not a fiction or fantasy film, but a docuseries, it should stick to the historical facts, since at the end of the day, it is documenting and for informational purposes. In this sense, by making statements that have no historical support or that cannot be fully confirmed, you are misinforming and distorting a figure that, beyond being represented throughout history as a white woman, was key in the Greek colonization in Egypt.

Marketing that masquerades as representation

These types of examples lead us to wonder how much the black community is being vindicated and if racializing a historical character is really representation and works as a fight and criticism against racism. Isn't it more of a marketing technique that makes use of the idea of fighting racism to sell more at a time when awareness of this problem is extremely important?

And it is that "Queen Cleopatra" is not the only example of this exercise. “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story,” also produced by Netflix, casts historical figure Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as a black woman . This comes from the fact that some historians have questioned whether she was England's first biracial or black queen because of her possible Portuguese ancestry. Of course, this ancestry is so far away that it possibly had no effect on her. However, the Netflix series, which leans towards fiction, went so far as to depict her as a black woman.

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It is paradoxical that historical figures who are unlikely to have been black are racialized instead of telling the stories of women who were black. This is the case of the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut, from the 18th dynasty, who is proven to have belonged to a black dynasty.

The representation should not be just because. On the contrary, it must have sufficient support to promote itself and dignify the life of a community that has historically been marginalized and violated.

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